It seems like a year ago when St. John's and Creighton were playing in the BIG EAST championship game in Omaha.
Oh. It was about a year ago. Nevermind.
It's amazing how much can change in one year. Last year I was just some idiot who wrote garbage on the internet, toiling away in this niche corner of the internet, writing about a bad baseball conference. Now I'm a polished idiot writing garbage on the internet, toiling away in this niche corner of the internet, writing about a pretty bad baseball conference.
St. John's had Ryan McCormick last year. He was their ace, he was undoubtedly the best baseball player in the BIG EAST, and he ate teams alive whenever they'd face him. St. John's ran the table and ended up in Stillwater, Oklahoma, stole a win, but died after losing to Arkansas.
Without McCormick on the hill the Johnnies just don't have that same vigor. They don't have that guy that can shut down an opponent. They have a lot of good pieces - Hackimer, Caruso, Donadio - that returned from last year, but their starting pitching has been a churning pit of mediocrity that has been unable to stop teams from scoring early and often.
Still, a Creighton-St. John's matchup has the richest baseball history between any two schools in the BIG EAST. It just has all the feels of a 'marquee matchup.' Think Yankees-Royals in the 70's. Cowtown boys from the midwest against the glamour and bling of New York, both polished in the fundamentals in the game, both featuring some brilliant characters in primary roles, both finishing in the top four of the conference. It's got everything you desire.
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The beginning of this game was about as good as it gets. On the second pitch of the game, St. John's Kevin Torres threw a pitch inside to Danny Woodrow. Woodrow, without missing a beat, took off for first base. The umpire confirmed a hit-by-pitch but on a closer look on the replay, it was quite clear that the ball missed Woodrow by a fair margin. I laughed, everyone laughed, it was a good time had by all.
Woodrow ended up getting thrown out at second base on an attempted steal, but the karmic evolution of the baseball Gods wielded its even hand as, upon further review, it appeared as if Woodrow was safe. Such is baseball.
The bottom of the first featured something I've never seen before, and I've wasted a great deal of my life watching baseball. It appeared as if Lacy got himself into quite the situation, giving up a double and a single, and had runners on the corners with just one out. Freshman second baseman Josh Shaw then approached the dish, shot a groundball to third baseman Harrison Crawford, who threw it home to get the runner. A pickle ensued, Emodi got the tag-out, and the second out of the inning had been recorded - except Shaw believed it was the third out, so he stepped off first and started sulking to the dugout.
Problem is, you can't do that in baseball. The third out was the easiest.
The Creighton defense - for the most part - was sublime tonight. If you forget Ryan Fitzgerald's booted ball, he had a stellar performance with multiple slides and dives to keep the bases empty. There was a clutch 4-6-3 double play to keep a run from scoring, Reagan Fowler had a diving grab that saved a double, and Danny Woodrow made a phenomenal catch on the track on a ball that carried.
On the flip side, the St. John's defense was equally impressive. Shaw is a much better fielder than he is a baserunner, and made some excellent plays all night that some second basemen in the conference would not make. Alex Caruso had a diving grab in center field to rob Crawford of an RBI base hit. Mostly, however, it was Kevin Torres wining and dining on a steady diet of off-speed stuff that tickled the black.
The scoring began in the top of the third when Buntatron 2000 tripled to deep center field. Due up next was Michael Emodi who launched a massive dong shot over the left center field wall, clearing the scoreboard by a good margin, and landing in some sad sack's backyard.
The Jays struck again in the top of the fourth when Reagan Fowler led things off with a single, was bunted to second by Matt Gandy, made it to third on a groundout, and was singled home by Harrison Crawford. At that point, it was 3-0 all Bluejays.
St. John's managed to tack on a run in the bottom of the fifth when Robbie Knightes managed to reach on the previously mentioned boot by Ryan Fitzgerald. From there, he got to second after a ball trickled away from Emodi, and planted himself on third when Berardi laid down an amazing bunt. Alex Caruso then lifted a ball into deep left field to score Knightes and the Johnnies were on the board, 3-1 Bluejays.
Rollie Lacy ran into some trouble in the bottom of the seventh. After setting down the first two batters, he proceeded to walk and hit the next two. Lacy was lifted for John Oltman, who gave up a double in only his second pitch of the game to Michael Donadio.
Game tied 3-3.
Oltman was lifted, Highberger entered, and Highberger did his part in the 7th and 8th.
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I've always known how good Tommy Hackimer has been. You know how good he's been. 25 appearances, .19 ERA, 45+ innings pitched. Nails.
Creighton, it turns out, is his kryptonite. Hackimer entered the game in the 8th with one out and breezed through the final two batters. The top of the ninth, however, told a different story.
To start things off, Hackimer walked Matt Gandy. Will Bamesberger, who was a defensive replacement for Brett Murray, squared to bunt four times. Hackimer, never experiencing this bunting phenomenon, was wild on every single pitch and walked Bamesberger. Harrison Crawford approached the dish and squared to bunt, only for Hackimer to sail the ball to the backstop. Gandy and Bamesberger proceeded to second and third. Hackimer then worked the count full on Crawford and eventually walked him.
Jays with the bases loaded, no outs, against the nation's top closer.
After Ryan Fitzgerald popped out to shallow right field, Creighton tabbed Brennan Hammer to get the deed done against Hackimer. He did just that, slapping a grounder under Robbie Knightes's glove, scoring Gandy and Bamesberger.
Michael Emodi stepped to the dish, runners on the corners, one out. On the third pitch of the at bat he laid down a hard bunt up the first base line, a bunted ball that Hackimer fielded. Hackimer decided to throw home, which he sailed well past his catcher. Crawford scored.
Hackimer's day was done.
The bottom half rolled around and Highberger was still pitching. He threw four straight out of the zone and walked the leadoff batter. Highberger was then replaced by Gerber, who proceeded to strike out Venice, walk Caruso, field a swinging bunt by Gui Gingras & successfully throw him out, and slam the door with a strikeout of Donadio.
Jays win 6-3.